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Small-scale DAB music stations makes me spend money on music.

By Art Grainger
Posted 30 December 2015, 7.59am est

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Just when I thought that (commercial) music radio couldn’t get much worse, to the point that I almost gave up listening to it, things are actually looking up again.

For quite some time I have tried not to let my love of music be tainted by commercial radio, which seems to go out of its way to ruin the experience and joy of music by cutting songs short, having presenters waffle over songs (with nothing to say other than the station name and a promotion for a premium rate competition that you don’t stand a chance of winning) or playing the same 600 songs for the rest of your life.

To make matters worse, most commercial stations that I used to listen to have dropped their specialist shows, so even the appointment-to-listen programs have gone. As a consequence I no longer tune into them at any other time (either accidentally or habitually) and have instead joined the large numbers of former listeners that are now spending most of our listening time tuned to the BBC or community radio, whilst said commercial stations continue to enjoy ever-decreasing audiences that are now in (or close to) single figures.

As an example, the UK’s longest running soul show (on Northsound 2 in Aberdeen) was dropped, as was another great soul show on Forth 2. So now, for my fix of soul music, I have to seek out programs on some BBC stations and occasionally community radio. This applies to other forms of music that I get in the mood for.

Fortunately, OfCom have provided the initiative that is small-scale DAB for which some trial services are on air in some parts of the country.
For a short while at least (although I suspect they will all get their trials extended or become permanent services), these mini MUX’s have provided a much more accessible platform for a variety of stations catering for communities and niches, many of which would otherwise have been confined to the internet and had little promotion for people to discover them and listen.

For the past few months I have discovered a wealth of stations that I had never heard before. Some are mediocre. Some are good. Others are great.

One such station is Sunset Radio in Manchester. For the past three months I have been listening to this station almost every day for typically more than an hour. I love soul music (as well as other forms of music). Sunset Radio plays mellow soul tracks, most of which I have seldom heard or ever heard before, so it’s been a real voyage of discovery for me.

As a consequence I have heard so many songs that I have considered to be so outstanding, I’ve ended up buying albums from Amazon or the artists’ websites, purely as a result of hearing the tracks on that station. So far I have spent almost £300 on CD’s and MP3 downloads. I now have all albums by Maysa Leak (who I had never heard before). I have filled the gaps in my Stevie Wonder collection (Characters was posted through my door this morning) and I have been introduced to other great artists and songs that otherwise don’t seem to get played on other stations.

Sunset Radio is not the only station to have had that effect on me. Jazz FM has done so in the past. Radio 2 and 6 Music occasionally do. Radio Clyde USED TO!!!!!!!

Indeed, when I look at my CD collection (and put aside the pre-releases that get sent to me as a legacy of my DJ-ing days), I can honestly consider that most of it has been bought as a result of hearing songs on specialist shows (and occasionally daytime shows) on commercial music radio, as well as the BBC.

So I do have to ask (again), what point is there to commercial music radio for music fans when there are other alternatives to listen to? Why should anyone listen to it when the the hooks and must-listen features are gradually being withdrawn?

Commercial radio may be doing alright for just now but I don’t see how it can last in the long term.

Meanwhile with streaming music providers, specialist small-scale DAB stations, internet channels, YouTube and social media, commercial music radio must surely be heading to a point of irrelevance, eventually.

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Comments

PRO1 year, 3 months ago

Meanwhile with streaming music providers, specialist small-scale DAB stations, internet channels, YouTube and social media, commercial music radio must surely be heading to a point of irrelevance, eventually.

No, they're there to provide audio wallpaper of familiar music, news and information and you don't need an internet connection to listen to them.

I will say though that CDNX on the Trial London multiplex has reawakened my interest in new alternative music, thanks to their music policy of classic familiar tracks and up and coming music.

The London trial multiplex has two classic soul stations with Crackers Radio from LGR, an existing commercial radio station and the ex-pirate Solar Radio, alongside Mi-Soul on one of the London wide muxes, which now means the capital is super served with soul music.

1 year, 3 months ago

Audio "wallpaper?"

People tend to change their wallpaper every so often when they get sick of the sight of it.

As for commercial radio providing news and information, they seem to want to provide the absolute minimum that they can get away with and every so often they try to get the regulator to relax the rules on that even further, so that they can provide even less.

So - what is the point of commercial music radio?

I would be convinced that the provision of "audio wallpaper of familiar music" is the way it should be if the RAJAR figures didn't keep showing most commercial stations slowly sliding downwards for reach, share and hours-per-listener, yet other music stations seem to be holding steady or increasing theirs, especially when the other stations that I can think of who are enjoying audience increases do in fact have formats that are a wee bit further removed from "audio wallpaper" and overly familiar hits with very narrow playlists.

1 year, 3 months ago

You see, this is where I have a problem with how modern commercial radio seems to view itself, and Martin more than adequately voiced it...

No, they're there to provide audio wallpaper of familiar music, news and information and you don't need an internet connection to listen to them.

You see, I regard this as a myth, a myth that commercial radio, and GWR in particular, started propagating years ago. The idea being that because commercial stations didn't have the kind of budget that the BBC had, they shouldn't be forced to do things like specialist music programmes, or longer form news.

This idea that there shouldn't be any appointment to listen programmes, that people would tune out of those, because it doesn't sound like the rest of the output, has become a standard for commercial radio. No or very few appointment programmes, just do the same thing, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, never alter it, never change it, and boom! magic formula for commercial radio success.

Except that familiarity breeds contempt, as the old saying goes, and it definitely seems that community radio's use of a more appointment based schedule rather than the flow schedule, has some benefits, but also some drawbacks. Yes it is very difficult to get people to go from one programme to another, although it can be done with good scheduling and some teamwork on a day to day basis. But at the same time, you do get a more loyal core audience that will stay with you for the length of the show, rather than tuning in and tuning out during the show.

The other thing that commercial radio has forgotten how to do, is provide content that actually attracts people's attention every whit and while. You don't need to be grabbing their attention all the time, but audio wallpaper grabs your attention 0% of the time. Even if all you do is grab their attention 5% of the time, outside of essential information like news, weather, travel and what's ons, those are the moments that build loyalty and respect for an audience listening to your show and your station. But random attempts to do that just don't cut it. It has to be honest and it has to be real. Just being attention grabbing, leads you down the path of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, widely listened to, but no respect, no credibility, just obsessive fans, and those who think you are a joke.

What should commercial radio be? A primarily entertainment service, made up of music, entertaining talk, informative talk, even thought-provoking talk at times. What it shouldn't be, and is far too often, is music and station promotion only. It shouldn't be audio wallpaper. IT should be at least something that provokes some listener loyalty.

PRO1 year, 3 months ago

What should commercial radio be? A primarily entertainment service, made up of music, entertaining talk, informative talk, even thought-provoking talk at times. What it shouldn't be, and is far too often, is music and station promotion only. It shouldn't be audio wallpaper. IT should be at least something that provokes some listener loyalty.

In that case, I'll get Doc Martin to get the DeLorean to take me back to 1985 to listen to some IBA regulated commercial radio which would no longer work, however much those who romanticise about the tightly regulated stations were apparently so much better than the GWR format which replaced the supposed local feel of those stations.

Small-scale DAB radio has at least shown that the smaller, more experimental stations can get on a linear platform at 1/4 of the cost of going on a Arqiva/MuxCo operated mulitiplex with an area that doesn't suit their needs.

If anything, the small scale experiment has finally made the DAB platform exciting and not just a playground for Bauer and Global to put their wallpaper brands on.

1 year, 3 months ago

In that case, I'll get Doc Martin to get the DeLorean to take me back to 1985 to listen to some IBA regulated commercial radio which would no longer work, however much those who romanticise about the tightly regulated stations were apparently so much better than the GWR format which replaced the supposed local feel of those stations.

Nobody has suggested going back to kind of radio we had in 1985. It probably wouldn't work now - but I do think that commercial radio has gone too far the other way.

You see, I know why I tuned out of a radio station that I happily listened to for more than 30 years, even though I'm in its demographic. Again, when I look at the RAJAR figures for it, I can clearly see that I am not alone and many hundreds of thousands of other people also tuned out at around the same time as I did. I tried to give it a chance by dipping in again every so often - only to hear the station repeating itself and having absolutely NOTHING, not even musically, to make me want to give up my other listening habits and stay on that station.

There was no feature hooks, no presenter/listener interaction, no quirky comments or quick discussions of subjects that I could relate to in my everyday life and so on.

Instead, what I heard was 12 songs an hour and presenters telling me Wikipedia extracted facts about the artists and songs - which might have worked if it hadn't been for the fact that out of those 12 songs, 3 of them I really liked, 3 of them I kind of liked, 3 of them were mediocre at best and 3 of them I wish they hadn't played - but all of them I have heard probably hundreds or thousands of times before in my life.

At least in the days of radio from probably about 6 or 7 years ago, the 12 songs were more tolerable when the presenter had something compelling to say and there was features, info, news and much more in-between.

Sadly those days are so far behind us that music streaming services are much more attractive, i-pods and smartphones that can store thousands of songs are a blessing and now with at least some variety on the DAB platform things are looking a bit better at least for this pair of ears.

1 year, 3 months ago

I don't want to listen to a presenter talking rubbish though. One commercial station in particular took to Facebook yesterday evening boasting about how they'd introduced "more personality" into their output. The reality is that they're just letting their presenters talk more. It's such a rookie mistake but more personality does not automatically equal more speech.

PRO1 year, 3 months ago

I don't want to listen to a presenter talking rubbish though. One commercial station in particular took to Facebook yesterday evening boasting about how they'd introduced "more personality" into their output.

It's a big turn-off, which is why I tend to stay well away from the UKRD stations and the majority of small scale commercial radio, thanks to the inane waffle and lack of experience some jocks show. Not to mention the older jocks from the ILR era who are still stuck in that 70s/80s way of jocking.

There are presenters who are capable of providing a mix speech and music on commercial radio and do it effortlessly in the way I think Ian wishes commercial radio to be, Nick Abbot and Iain Lee spring to mind when they've been on music stations, but they are few and far between and it's an actual skill. Dave Doubledecks on a 25w tx rambling about the production of a track or some dull anecdote is not good radio.

Personally I think UK wallpaper radio could be so much better. The NRJ stations in France have similar formats to Global, yet are able to provide a tight, but varied playlist and also experimental formats including an all speech comedy format on FM, while having larger restrictions, such as a quota of French music and speech.

1 year, 3 months ago

This is it. A 1980s ILR tribute act might appeal to the likes of Art and Ian but it won't get RAJAR. The world's moved on.

1 year, 3 months ago

This is it. A 1980s ILR tribute act might appeal to the likes of Art and Ian but it won't get RAJAR. The world's moved on.

Really?

Neither does the present day audio wallpaper stations, it would seem. You only need to look at the RAJAR graphs on this website and see for yourself how most commercial stations are heading downwards, whilst BBC staations are holding steady (or in the case of Radio 2, wiping the floor and thrashing some heritage ILR's in their own TSA's).

1 year, 3 months ago

I think that's a bit of a generalisation. You know as well as I do that there is increasing competiton which results in more focused programming from the commercial sector.

1 year, 3 months ago

"Focused programming" usually equals minimum programming effort.

If it was successful and (as you point out) there is increasing competition, then can you please explain to me how a heritage ILR in Aberdeen can lose half of its audience in 12 months, whilst its competitor, despite being a specialist music service, can gain an audience increase of 51% in the exact same period (June 2013 - June 2014 - around the time when all programmes from Aberdeen were dropped in favour of networking)?

Looking at those figures, you could assume that the audience simply transferred from one station to the other (the head count would suggest that). Original 106 is not musical wallpaper nor its its playlist confined to overly familiar chart hits. It had been suggested by some people in-the-know that the listeners simply followed the presenters from one station to the other - so that doesn't quite go with the theory of musical wallpaper.

1 year, 3 months ago

In that case, I'll get Doc Martin to get the DeLorean to take me back to 1985 to listen to some IBA regulated commercial radio which would no longer work...

Erm, proof? hard evidence? circumstantial evidence? facts? a working theory? a micron of a crumb of a piece of something that might back up your statement?

This has been spouted for years as though it is fact, yet whenever anybody has been challenged to present the evidence, they always claim that it's commercially sensitive. Bullcrap.

Considering most other commercial stations have gone down the same path, what's commercially sensitive about it any more? And those that have, are they just following suit because they've realised it's cheaper to do, and their competition is doing it, so like lemmings they follow suit? By the way, that theory has no more proof to it than the one about it not working anymore.

And, by the way, this has become so often repeated, that it is now incredibly lazy to keep bringing the idea up, and stating it as though it is fact, especially when it is completely unproven.

Sorry, but the level of delusion here is equivalent to what we have seen from the likes of Rush Limbaugh back in 2009, when he was claiming Obama wanted to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, which has not come back under Obama.

To claim that I want to see a return to 80s ILR is grossly wrong. What I want to see, is a change, to the idea of providing a service first, and making a profit second, rather than being about making a profit first, and constructing the station around that desire to make as much profit as possible. The idea that a media company should ONLY be concerned with making a profit, is one that I find gross.

We can see and hear exactly what that kind of media looks like. It looks like FOX, and the right wing news talk stations, and the right wing newspapers, that neither report any actual news, nor allow any actual news to infiltrate their little bubbles, for fear that their entire edifices would come crashing down.

PRO1 year, 3 months ago

To claim that I want to see a return to 80s ILR is grossly wrong. What I want to see, is a change, to the idea of providing a service first, and making a profit second, rather than being about making a profit first, and constructing the station around that desire to make as much profit as possible. The idea that a media company should ONLY be concerned with making a profit, is one that I find gross.

Which sounds a lot like 70s/80s IBA regulation of commercial radio.

Welcome to capitalism where in the media industry, the customer is the advertiser, the consumer is the listener where if you're lucky, you may enjoy what the company puts out.

Even in the so-called glory days of ILR, Centre Radio went bust as their business model simply didn't work.

For a service which puts the listener first as they don't have shareholders or advertisers, the BBC, community radio and bedroom internet radio are there for exactly that reason.

1 year, 3 months ago

What I want to see, is a change, to the idea of providing a service first, and making a profit second, rather than being about making a profit first, and constructing the station around that desire to make as much profit as possible. The idea that a media company should ONLY be concerned with making a profit, is one that I find gross.

That's a valid point of view, but it's a political, not a commercial one. And wIthout legislative change, radio stations are of course obliged to compete with those with the lowest costs or they'll go bust.

Anyway, there are lots of reasons why 80s style ILR couldn't work today which don't require any commercially-sensitive data:

The high cost of speech radio compared to music radio.
The low audiences for specialist shows, even during ILR days.
More radio competition, local and national.
Much, much more media competition: TV and digital.
Lower yields for radio audiences than in the 80s.
The decimation of traditional local advertising as local advertising moves to Search.

1 year, 3 months ago

Oh God don't start him on Fox. We don't need another pissed-up rant in middle of the night!

Commercial radio is there to deliver profits first, and provide a service second. That's how commercial enterprises work. Look at it this way - if I could choose to have 24/7 local presenters for all of my stations and they get 50,000 listeners each, or have all but breakfast, drive and a weekend show shared across my stations but they only get 40,000 listeners each, I'm still going to network every time because it's significantly cheaper to do it that way.

1 year, 3 months ago

Greetings from Bristol. First time I've been in the place as well.

So, going by what has been said so far, commercial music radio exists for its listeners to listen to adverts first and everything else is a much lower priority, if, of course, the jingle and advert stations can be bothered to (or are obliged to). If they gradually lose listeners and slowly head towards zero, then it doesn't matter.

It can't last - or it will eventually come crashing down.

Capitalism has its virtues but it only brings advantages in the short term if it is not managed.

Thatcherism was an ethos enjoyed by a few during the 80's but many people with an ounce of sense could see that Thatcher's policies were destined to fail (or cause greater problems) in the long term. Quarter of a century later and almost all of Thatcher's policies have had to have counter measures put in place, even by her own party, to counteract the negative effects. Just ask anyone in England who is trying to get onto the property ladder if Thatcher's Right To Buy was a great idea or not.

Commercial radio is getting towards being in that place. Where short term ideals of profit before anything else is coming at the cost of the real potential of losing all your listeners in the long term, as the RAJAR figures are already indicating.

If commercial music radio wants to save itself from becoming irrelevant, in an age where there are so many other options for musical wallpaper, then it needs to reconsider the balance of priorities between profit now and actually existing in the long term.

1 year, 3 months ago

If listeners aren't listening to the ads, indeed the whole thing does fall down. Personal video recorders have given the TV industry headaches for nearly 40 years.

1 year, 3 months ago

And again, it is proven that the industry has the whole situation backwards. Trying to appeal to advertisers, and hoping that listeners will tune in as a result, is putting the cart before the horse. It is a well known, well established fact, that advertisers follow the crowd, that is, they follow where there are the most listeners.

If you want to get advertisers on board, you have to get listeners on-board first. Get enough listeners, and you'll have advertisers flocking to your door. This is why the industry is in the state that it is in, with audiences to commercial stations generally falling as a whole, and the BBC, which is trying to appeal to listeners because they don't have advertisers, is actually appealing to listeners and growing audience share.

Now, obviously on both sides, there are stations bucking those general trends, but the message is clear, if commercial radio wants to listen, and unfortunately, there is no sign that they will listen until it is too late.

Now, Michael Cook made a case as to why 80's style ILR wouldn't work today, and I need to bust a few myths here.

The high cost of speech radio compared to music radio.

Whilst it's true that all talk or more talk radio would be more expensive, there's actually no increased cost to having guests come in for an interview on weekdays, and also no increased cost to utilising the news team to produce a short 2 or 3 minute local news interview on the phone. They already do such interviews to get the piece of actuality they need for the bulletins, so whilst it would mean taking some extra time to edit together the package, it's not an increased cost.

The low audiences for specialist shows, even during ILR days.

There's no doubt that certain specialist shows, like country and jazz, were indeed low raters for ILR, but often that was because they were very tightly defined shows and they didn't use a lot of popular country or jazz artists that actually charted. It was kind of poor actually.

Also, there's plenty of evidence to say that Oldies, 80s and Love Songs, were and still are very popular specialisms on commercial radio worldwide. A number of stations do a love songs show between 7pm and Midnight on weekdays, and there's plenty of evidence to suggest that country music stars like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton still maintain a large degree of popularity. I think it's a case of how it's handled, rather than a general thing of specialist music not being popular.

More radio competition, local and national.

No question there is a lot more competition out there on the radio dials, but with so many stations choosing individual specialisms, a more general purpose/full service station would actually stand out in a way that most stations these days just don't do.

Much, much more media competition: TV and digital.

Again, most of these TV channels are pretty specialised, and the ones that do better in terms of BARB ratings are the ones that are less specific and somewhat broader in tone. When it comes to people who play computer games though, radio has a chance there of being a secondary media, in a way that television just can't.

Lower yields for radio audiences than in the 80s.

What? You make listeners sound like a corporate bond or government bond. Listeners are people, and thinking of them in terms of what you yield from them is part of the problem.

The decimation of traditional local advertising as local advertising moves to Search.

This is much more of a local newspaper problem than a local radio problem. Newspapers have faced advertising downturns both from corporate advertising spending, and from classified ads. Radio generally is holding up better but that's not to say that isn't room for improvement, because there is.

1 year, 3 months ago

Indeed James, if listeners aren't listening to ads, then it will fail. However the ads make up for the fraction of an hour. It's the remaining 48 minutes or so that has to be compelling enough to make people want to tune in (and then get to hear the ads). It's this bit that appears to be starting to fail and the listening figures are going down (as many had predicted some years ago when radical programming changes were being made). That old phrase, "Hate to say I told you so" may be ringing true.

As for another point made about specialist shows not having large audiences, this is not so true either. Indeed, here in Scotland some specialist shows were so successful that they became some of the longest running radio shows in the UK. One specialist show (a Rave music program for teens and twenties) that went out at 5PM on a Saturday typically had 70,000 listeners, making for quite a considerable fraction of Radio Forth's reach in its TSA if 1 Million people.

1 year, 2 months ago

The London minimux has NTS Radio on it, looking at the list on Wohnort. This has been broadcasting online for a few years now, and IMO it is fantastic with an eclectic range of specialist shows, with a lot of electronic and underground music played. Could be a competitor for Resonance and Rinse FM.

It can only be good news as far as I'm concerned that they are getting a signal over the air which should hopefully boost their profile further.

What sort of coverage does the London minimux have?

PRO1 year, 2 months ago

The London minimux has NTS Radio on it, looking at the list on Wohnort.

NTS hasn't started broadcasting on the London minimux yet, although the station name is displayed on receivers with no other data or a stream.

What sort of coverage does the London minimux have?

Inner London, boundary of the North Circular and South Circular Road, although you can get reception just outside of those roads for a couple of miles out. The North London tx is in Highgate, there's also a South London tx which hasn't been disclosed. Central London reception can be patchy as they don't have a tx at the BT Tower like the other muxes.

1 year, 2 months ago

Thanks Martin. Do you know when the London minimux is due to start?

NTS is everything that good, challenging and diverse music radio should be about IMO.

PRO1 year, 2 months ago

Thanks Martin. Do you know when the London minimux is due to start?

The London minimux is already on air with a range of London community radio stations including Rinse FM, Resonance, Reprezent and NuSound Radio, alongside Crackers Radio, Solar Radio and north London commercial station LGR.

There's no indication of when NTS will commence broadcasting on the multiplex.

PRO1 year, 2 months ago

NTS is now on DAB in London.

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